Equilibrium believes in universal family support but progress in this direction depends on coherent and consistent practice among the different professions coupled with a change in professional attitudes to embrace the idea of public service. Families need to learn how to respond to the availability of public servants. The relevant expression is proactivity.
It will take time to establish the types of relationships and interactions that support this type of community. Professionals must learn to stop playing the expert who prescribes “appropriate outcomes” for children and families. Parents must learn to use the opportunity they are given to seek help when they need it and to openly express their needs and aspirations.
In several ways, 2017 was a year in which EQ took significant steps towards adjusting the style of its interaction with families and our fellow professionals. Child protection services remain at the centre of our operations but – in a variety of different ways – those additional projects we undertake vividly demonstrate new styles of relationship and methods of making communication and interaction between our team and those families that we serve more open and informal.
We now manage 11 discrete child protection services and provide technical support for the development of services in other regions, principally Silistra, This gives us ample opportunity to develop the ways that we communicate, cooperate and lead development.
In September, we officially opened our new centre dedicated to early childhood studies and practice. Here we have created a “meeting place” for children and families that is welcoming, intimate and highly informal in the style of the Swedish open nursery. Partners from Scotland helped us create an enchanting environment that encourages exploration and play.
The new centre will be a place where ideas are exchanged and families contribute to growth and development. We will use their skills, talents and passions. This is a BIG departure from normative practice in Bulgaria and it will take time for mums and dads to become accustomed to being asked to do these things.
Play-oriented activity from the early childhood centre was successfully transported into work done on behalf of Ruse municipal authority. In this project, EQ works with parents and children in Ruse’s two Roma neighbourhoods. The focus is on reproductive health, ante-natal and post-natal care and the general wellbeing of mothers and babies. By exploring mother-and-baby interaction and rich and varied play for toddlers, our team helped families draw maximum benefit from the scant resources available to them.
In the context of a project managed by the National Network for Children, Ruse is one of four locations where efforts are being made to help children and young adults who are in conflict with the law. Our shared ambition is to shape a new type of children protection service that adheres to a child rights approach and produces better outcomes for these young people. Inevitably, this involves new methods of working with families and attempts to strengthen collaboration with those working in the judiciary and law enforcement.
The community school concept is well understood in many countries but it is relatively new to Bulgaria. Again, on behalf of the National Network for Children, EQ is supporting the process of developing such a venture in the town of Kubrat. Formation of the supportive network involves nurturing relationships among parents, NGOs, businesses, institutions and other stakeholders that are part of the community in Kubrat.
Home improvement activity in poor and marginalized communities does not only benefit the householders, it can stimulate local enterprise and promote community spirit and mutual support. In the Ruse region, EQ represents the organization Habitat for Humanity that provides interest-free loans to encourage this type of activity.
To create conditions that nurture the health and well-being of all families we must face up to great complexity and the need for a significant change in the attitudes and expectations of everyone involved.
EQ is aware that in many ways this involves building a new community with different types of institutions, fresh partnerships, greater openness and – above all else – public trust.
We’re up for it.